Christmas in Harlem: BLACK NATIVITY

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

There are so many movies that have gone to the stage and so many Broadway shows that have become movies, that I could start a whole new blog just comparing the adaptations back and forth of both.  Here's another one - "Black Nativity" a staged musical originally written by Langston Hughes, the show was first performed Off-Broadway on December 11, 1961. It's a stylized, gospel retelling of the Biblical Jesus, Mary & Joseph Christmas story told with a dark skinned cast. Now writer/director Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou, Talk to Me) has put her own spin on the tale for her new movie Black Nativity starring Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Tyrese Gibson and Jacob Latimore as the playwright's name sake.

NT: What was the creative process like adapting Langston Hughes’ work onto the big screen?

KL: Well I first did the adapting on my own. I put a lot of thought into it. It was sort of a lengthy process because I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of approach I would take at first. I wanted to do a kind of contemporary story. I decided fairly on that I wanted to do something different than just adapt the play The Black Nativity. I was going to really write another story that could continue it. And so that’s how I started writing this story about a family I wanted to write something very contemporary and very much dealing with right now and our time but that would also feel timeless. That took a couple of years for me to write as a draft. READ MORE Janet Lee Neon Tommy

The movie begins with Langston (Latimore) and some friends b-bopp'n, hip hop'n around the neighborhood, the scene mirroring a low tech music video for a new artist.  He comes home to find his mother (Hudson) with a worried look on her face, looks down on the table, sees an eviction notice. Next he's being told he'll have to spend Christmas with his grandparents in Harlem, who he's never met. I would have preferred this whole set up be scratched. The movie should have begun with Langston on the bus on his way to NY which features the Negro spiritual “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child”.  And the reasons for his being shipped off to meet his grandparents (Whitaker/Bassett) could be revealed as the story unfolds.

Not only would this have been less of a stock setup, but also it would be less Jennifer Hudson acting.  She's really un-good!  I think her role as Effie White and subsequent Oscar was a fluke.  Either that, or the pressure to live up to that part and coveted statue has made her too aware of herself as an actress; now she's like Beyonce, kinda wooden, she feels like a singer making a cameo rather than an actress with the talent to sing.

In terms of the movie as a whole, well, Christmas movies tend to be simplistic - full of family dysfunction, money ills, reconciliation, a prodigal child, with love being the greatest gift. If it's told with music and a few dream sequences all the better. I mean it's really what we look for, my two favorite Christmas movies, besides the Rankin/Bass animated tales, are Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington in The Preacher's Wife and Marie Osmond and Timothy Bottom in The Gift of Love.  And basically this is what Kasi Lemmons bring us with a contemporary tone. Who knows it may even become one of your cherished Christmas Eve DVD's.

T&T Lamb Score: 3 outta 5

 Black Nativity Opens Thanksgiving Day

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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